Watch those auto levels
One of the first things I do when I open a RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is hit the “auto” button which corrects the levels to what it thinks is right for the image. Most times it does a good job and I only have to make a few tweaks on the sliders before opening the file in Photoshop. Most times, meaning average scenes, with average tonality. When the scene is not average but overly bright or dark the “correction” wants to average the levels and you end up with dull middle-of-the-road tones.
This photo is one of those scenes that ACR couldn’t average. The auto setting wanted to bring the wooded area towards middle gray which totally washed out the contrast with the flowers. It may have even been technically correct, as the woods were not that dark, but not what I had envisioned for the scene. So I worked the sliders manually, setting the brightness, contrast, and black points to where I thought the image looked good. Yeah, I just used my eyes! I wanted to enhance the contrast between the flowers and the wooded area without washing out the bright white blossoms.
Once I opened the file in Photoshop, I used Topaz B&W Effects for the black and white conversion, again focusing on the contrast yet preserving the flower detail. I’ve been using the Topaz for my B&W work more of late and really liking the results. I still use Nik Silver Efex but the Topaz offers a wider variety of tones and adjustment controls. It took me a while to get used to it but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.